Recap: Johnny Russell on target as Sporting falls 2-1 to Real Salt Lake

Sporting Kansas City (7-10-7, 28 points) fell 2-1 to rivals Real Salt Lake (11-9-4, 37 points) on Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park, dropping eight points below the Western Conference playoff line with 10 regular season matches remaining.

Johnny Russell fired the hosts ahead with a scintillating free kick in the 31st minute, but RSL overturned the deficit behind a brace from Corey Baird. The 23-year-old forward restored parity seven minutes before halftime and bagged the game-winner in the 70th minute to condemn Sporting to their fifth home defeat of 2019 and strengthen RSL’s hold on sixth place in the West.

Having celebrated his 10-year anniversary as Sporting’s manager in a 3-2 win at Seattle Sounders FC last Sunday, Peter Vermes made two changes to the starting lineup this time around. Veteran midfielder Roger Espinoza returned from a one-game suspension to replace Benny Feilhaber, who missed out Saturday due to a yellow card suspension of his own. Further up the field, Russell supplanted Daniel Salloi to earn his 50th career start for Sporting in all competitions.

Misfortune struck early as Sporting winger Gerso Fernandes was forced to exit after just six minutes with an ankle injury, prompting Salloi’s introduction from off the bench. Vermes’ men nevertheless controlled proceedings early and finally translated their superiority into a goal near the half-hour mark.

Felipe Gutierrez was active throughout the first half and won Sporting a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, giving Russell a golden free kick opportunity near the top of the box. The Scottish international promptly converted his chance, unleashing a left-footed laser into the far left corner for his eighth league goal of 2019. Russell now leads MLS with four goals from outside the box and is one of two players—alongside D.C. United’s Wayne Rooney—to have two goals from direct free kicks this season.

RSL entered Saturday with just one loss in their previous eight games and responded positively after falling behind. The visitors would cash in on a free kick of their own in the 38th minute, with Baird slotting home on the doorstep after Albert Rusnak’s set piece effort rattled the left post. Baird, who had scored just once previously this year, has now found the back of the net in three of his four career regular season appearances against Sporting.

On the brink of intermission, Gutierrez and Russell combined intricately on the edge of the box before the latter was tripped from behind inside the area. Referee Fotis Bazakos pointed to the spot, but Gutierrez' bid for a team-leading 11th goal of the season was unsuccessful as his hard-hit penalty shook the left post and caromed back into the field of play.

Graham Zusi created a pair of chances that fell to Salloi on both sides of halftime, but neither effort troubled RSL goalkeeper and all-time MLS appearances leader Nick Rimando. At the opposite end of the pitch, Sporting keeper Tim Melia did well to save Rusnak’s low drive on the breakaway in the 62nd minute.

Baird buried his match-winner with 20 minutes to go, chesting down a Jefferson Savarino diagonal ball and finishing off a counter attack with a crisp finish low across Melia. Sporting’s ensuing search for an equalizer was further complicated in the 84th minute when Salloi received a straight red card for a two-footed challenge, reducing the hosts to 10 men for the rest of the evening.

Sporting’s decisive stretch of four matches in 13 days will continue Wednesday when the club visits Eastern Conference outfit Orlando City SC (8-11-6, 30 points) at Exploria Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM.

2019 MLS Regular Season
Game 24 of 34

Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Attendance: 18,219
Weather: 87 degrees and sunny

Score 1 2 F
Sporting Kansas City (7-10-7, 28 points) 1 0 0
Real Salt Lake (11-9-4, 37 points) 1 1 2

Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Andreu Fontas, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic (Jimmy Medranda 82'); Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez (Gianluca Busio 90+1'); Johnny Russell, Erik Hurtado, Gerso Fernandes (Daniel Salloi 6')
Subs Not Used: Eric Dick, Nico Hasler, Luis Martins, Graham Smith

Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Aaron Herrera, Marcelo Silva, Justen Glad, Donny Toia; Nick Besler (Sam Johnson 64'), Kyle Beckerman (C), Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak (Brooks Lennon 90+4'), Corey Baird (Nedum Onuoha 77'); Damir Kreilach
Subs Not Used: Andrew Putna, Justin Portillo, Joao Plata, Tate Schmitt

Scoring Summary:
SKC -- Johnny Russell 8 (unassisted) 31'
RSL -- Corey Baird 2 (unassisted) 38'
RSL -- Corey Baird 3 (Jefferson Savarino 5) 70'

Misconduct Summary:
RSL -- Nick Besler (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 29'
SKC -- Felipe Gutierrez (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 29'
RSL -- Donny Toia (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 45+2'
SKC -- Andreu Fontas (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 45+2'
RSL -- Corey Baird (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 76'
SKC -- Daniel Salloi (red card; serious foul play) 84'
SKC -- Erik Hurtado (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 90+2'
RSL -- Aaron Herrera (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 90+5'

Shots 12 11
Shots on Goal 3 6
Saves 4 2
Fouls 10 10
Offsides 0 4
Corner Kicks 6 2

Referee: Fotis Bazakos
Assistant Referee: Corey Rockwell
Assistant Referee: Matthew Nelson
Fourth Official: Michael Radchuk
VAR: Jorge Gonzalez
AVAR: Jeff Muschik